Image courtesy of WaPo's Kevin Clark
As devastating as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita may have been, the amount of pain and destruction they inflicted on Louisiana and Mississippi may have just been a prelude to the larger ecological disaster they now pose. Though largely unreported until now, new satellite data from NASA has shown that the hurricanes may have struck down or severely damaged as many as 320 million trees in the two states.
James Cummins, executive director of Wildlife Mississippi and a board member of the state's Forestry Commission, has described this as, "the worst environmental disaster in the United States since the Exxon Valdez accident ... and the greatest forest destruction in modern times." He was critical of the poor response this catastrophe had received so far, arguing that it needed to be both "really broad" and "aggressive."Researchers are concerned about the huge amount of carbon dioxide emissions this massive die-off is likely to release - potentially as much as is taken in by the rest of the country's forests in a year through photosynthesis. Furthermore, the weakening and destruction of much of the natural flora has facilitated the invasion of several fast-growing exotic species - including cogon, an aggressive Japanese grass.
According to the U.S. Forest Service and Farm Service Agency, the damage from the hurricanes, in monetary terms, could amount to over $2 billion - the equivalent of 5.5 billion board feet of lumber. The pace of reforestation has been agonizingly slow - longleaf pines, which once numbered 40 million acres, have now been reduced to little over 1 million acres.
Jeffrey Q. Chambers, a professor at Tulane University who led the study investigating the tree die-off, used satellite imagery to do a before-and-after analysis of the states' vegetation. He discovered that as much as 100 million tons of carbon could be released as the vegetation continues its decomposition process.
Via ::The Washington Post: Katrina, Rita Caused Forestry Disaster (newspaper)
See also: ::Most Huggable: Two Years After Katrina, Carbon Trading’s Dark Side, Bright Green Fall Fashion, and more, ::National Wetlands Newsletter From ELI Examines Developments Since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, ::Australian Forestry Standard Goes Global